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Sociological Theory Concepts and Evidence of Crime and Deviance

Labeling Theory or Sociological theory derives from the “social interaction” approach in social psychology. Labeling theory is the most significant methodology to recognize the behavior of the deviant and criminal. Labeling theoreticians are involved in why and how certain actions are described as criminal; no action is fundamentally criminal itself. For the labeling theoretician, no action is deviant in itself, deviance is a social concept. Therefore, a person or action only becomes deviant when labeled by people as deviant. Labeling theoretician claim that social control agencies like police and court influence the label of specific groups as criminals. Labeling theory declares that by labeling specific people as deviant or crime society boosts them to become more so. The general idea behind this theory is that crime is socially created/constructed, agents of social control label the helpless as deviant and criminal based on conventional/orthodox assumptions and this develops effects such as criminal career and deviancy amplification (Scimecca, 1977).

Howard Backer 1963 demonstrates that how crime is the result of social communications by using the example of a dispute between two people. According to him, moral entrepreneurs (interactive groups) create deviance by creating the rules and by relating those rules to specific people and labeling them as outdoors (Akers, 2011). Cohen introduced the term “moral panic” in order to show the effects of the coverage of media to make the persons categorize themselves as either rockers or mods which really facilitated to generate of the violence that took place among them, which further facilitated to approve them as violent in the views/eyes of the society (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2010).

Labeling theory debates that criminal conduct happens as a result of the leading social group labeling minority group who are observed to be performing actions that are against social values. When society gives undesirable/negative expressions to the person, this influences the individual to accept the label to become a deviant by implementing the nature of a deviant person in order to approve the expectation of society.

Jock Young 1971 established the concepts of secondary deviance in his learning of “hippy marijuana peoples” (Baron, 2003). Edwin Lemert 1972 established the concept of primary and secondary deviance to influence the truths that everyone is busy in deviant action, but only some individuals are trapped being deviant and labeled as deviant (Akers, 2011). Primary deviance denotes those actions which have not been widely labeled and are thus tiny reactions while Secondary deviance denotes deviance that is the consequence of the feedback of others which is significant. Edwin concluded that it was a social burden to express better in society which led to some persons creating difficulties with stuttering (Akers, 2011).

In society, labeling can show a significant role in how people interact with other individuals daily. Labeling is the procedure of giving a single name/label that they have not selected for themselves. Labeling theory is related to the negative significance and usually turns around deviance. Therefore, deviant conduct is criminal, resulting in authorized issues/ramifications. The best example of negative deviance is Hunger Games. Basically, Hunger Games is an interesting movie in which a single person had to kill and fight each other until only one individual was left who would be the champion, providing assets for his/her district and constructing them rich. Peeta and Katniss were the last two people, they went against the system of the games and that single deed changed the entire game ever. In Hunger Games, both performed in a way that was unsuccessful to achieve the accepted values. In the opinion of society and government, they were showing negative deviance. They rejected to approve of the rules even nevertheless everyone else after did what society said. They refused, both the established cultural objectives and the established means of obtaining those goals. Hunger Games encourages the purpose of encouraging the change related to social and elucidating norms because they determined not to approve in order to express that they will not fight to murder each other just for their fun.

Nick Cohen said that “One law for the rich, no law for the poor”. Law is not applied equally to all because the system of justice does not protect the weak against the strong. On the other hand, in backward areas, these same events might be viewed as bent to juvenile delinquency, which recommends that “discrimination of race and class” act an important part in the procedure of allocating labels of deviance. Likewise, statistics express that police murder Black people in a greater number than Whites, even when they are defenseless and have performed no crime, suggesting that the misuse of deviant labels as a result of ethnic stereotypes is a tragedy (Stevens, 2007).

There are many strength factors of the labeling theory. Firstly, sociological and labeling theories have helped to produce a great deal of successive research into the results of labeling e.g., Rist in 1970 exposed how the expectations of the negative teacher positioned on the working class guides to anti-school subgroups. This recommends that the ideas of sociologists have made the main role in the learning of deviance and crime. Secondly, sociological and labeling theories have achieved experimental support e.g., Goffman in 1968 presented how the medication of the mentally sick leads to humiliation. This recommends that there is some legitimacy in the sociologist’s thoughts. Thirdly, labeling theories emphasize the causes for distinctions in deviances between societies. Fourthly, this theory also presents that law is often imposed in a biased way. Lastly, Cultural efforts to limit deviance can generate further deviance (Innes, 2004).

There are a lot of critical factors in the labeling theory. Firstly, labeling theory becomes unsuccessful to demonstrate why persons perform primary deviance. Secondly, ignores that person who energetically continues deviance. Thirdly, provides the victim status to the offender and ignores the actual victim/criminal of the crime i.e., the sexual assaulter is not a victim. Fourthly, labeling theory highlights the communication procedure of labeling and ignores the structures and procedures that guide to deviant action. Such procedures might contain differences in behaviors, opportunities, socialization, and how economic and social structures influence these. Lastly, learning theory has been argued on a theoretical theory, while Marxist theory admits that labeling theory points out important and valid questions, they discuss that the theoretical has a weak opinion of social and power control e.g., the theory becomes unsuccessful to clarify why the extent and nature of deviance and crime are socially created.  They also debate that socialists become unsuccessful to focus on the vast structural origins of deviance and crime.  This recommends that labeling theory only suggests a partial opinion on deviance and crime (Spitzer, 1975).

Labeling Theory derives from the “social interaction”. Labeling theory is the most appropriate method to recognize the behavior of the deviant and criminal. In society, labeling can show a significant role in how people interact with other individuals daily. Labeling is the procedure of giving a single name/label that they have not selected for themselves. Labeling theory suggests that we should avoid ‘shaming and naming’ criminals since this is expected to build an opinion of them as evil outdoors and, by eliminating them from society and impulse them into more deviance. Goffman used the term stigma in labeling theory. He used this term because offenders are stigmatized and this appreciates them to perform criminal actions according to labels titled to them (Innes, 2004). In order to eliminate crime, we should eliminate the negative contortions which are given to people, specifically offenders/criminals. Society/culture should take crime as an error committed by an individual, which should be overturned through therapy/rehabilitation rather than confessing that crime is the nature of the individual.


Scimecca, J.A., 1977. Labeling theory and personal construct theory: Toward the measurement of individual variation. J. Crim. Law Criminol. 1973- 68, 652–659.

Akers, R.L., 2011. Social learning and social structure: A general theory of crime and deviance. Transaction Publishers.

Goode, E., Ben-Yehuda, N., 2010. Moral panics: The social construction of deviance. John Wiley & Sons.

Baron, S.W., 2003. Self-control, social consequences, and criminal behavior: Street youth and the general theory of crime. J. Res. Crime Delinquency 40, 403–425.

Stevens, A., 2007. When two dark figures collide: Evidence and discourse on drug-related crime. Crit. Soc. Policy 27, 77–99.

Innes, M., 2004. Signal crimes and signal disorders: notes on deviance as communicative action. Br. J. Sociol. 55, 335–355.

Spitzer, S., 1975. Toward a Marxian theory of deviance. Soc. Probl. 22, 638–651.



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